Punk and Pale as Ever in Their Twelfth Season, Siouxsie and the Banshees Screech Out a U.S. Hit

updated 12/05/1988 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/05/1988 01:00AM

She's a Nightmare on Elm Street fan who doesn't like red meat. She's a high-heeled, black-gartered temptress who conceals the location of her "extremely painful, but private" tattoo. Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Indians, because when Susan Dallion was a London tot of 6, somebody gave her "an Indian-girl outfit and a wigwam." The rest is history, or something like it, since Dallion dubbed herself Siouxsie Sioux and in 1976 began whooping it up with the Banshees (named after the B-movie ghoulfest Cry of the Banshee). Today, while such original British punk bands as the Clash are mere slam-dancing memories, Siouxsie, 31, has released her 11th album, Peep Show, and her first U.S. hit, "Peek-A-Boo."

Hummable it's not. "Come bite on this rag doll, baby/That's right. Now hit the floor," croaks Siouxsie on the single. "The music came from a track off our previous album," says drummer Budgie. "We ran it in reverse, and that became the inspiration for the melody." Melody? Even Siouxsie laughs: "Actually, it was a backwards piece of noise."

Imagewise, the Banshees come on like a bad night in the Weimar Republic. For starters, there's Siouxsie's hair (poured jet-black out of a bottle) and skin (pale white and out of a pot). Bassist-songwriter Steve Severin, 33, Budgie, 31, guitarist Jon Klein, 28, and keyboardist Martin McCarick, 24, complete the vampiric tableau with heavy-lidded stares. Then there are the songs—"Rawhead and Bloodybones," an unsettling lullaby, "Rhapsody," an unmelodic meditation on Joseph Stalin, and, of course, "Peek-A-Boo," an exotic, erotic ditty Siouxsie identifies as anti-pornographic.

A self-described loner who has never married, Siouxsie says her music is the product of a discontent "directed at everything, but nothing specifically." She traces this free-floating antipathy to her childhood in a London suburb, where she grew up as the youngest of three children. Her mother was a secretary; her father, who she claims "milked snakes in the Belgian Congo" for a living, died when she was 14. Susan, almost a decade younger than her nearest sibling, felt "pretty much like an only child, drawn into my own world." After graduating from Mattingham Secondary School for Girls, she met up with Severin, who shared both her alienated spirit and her fondness for David Bowie and Roxy Music. With noticeably more enthusiasm than musical training, the pair founded the Banshees, which originally included now-deceased Sex Pistol Sid Vicious. They made their London concert debut in 1976 with a 20-minute, brain-bending version of the Lord's Prayer.

"It was very much like trick or treat," Siouxsie recalls of that evening. A decade later the Banshees are still screaming, but their fans, at least, have grown more sedate. "We're still very much on the outside," says Siouxsie. "But now our fans are married, and they bring their spouses and kids to see us. I like the irony of it. I think it's very sweet."

—Susan Toepfer, and Todd Gold in Los Angeles

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